Facebook recently announced its own version of the Supreme Court: a 40-member board that will make final decisions about user posts that Facebook has taken down. The announcement came after extended deliberations that have been described as Facebook’s “constitutional convention.” Sweeping terms such as Supreme Court and constitution are not commonly used to describe the operation of private companies, but here they seem appropriate given the platforms’ importance for the many people who use them in place of newspapers, TV stations, the postal service, and even money. Yet private platforms aren’t really the public square, and internet companies aren’t governments. That’s exactly why they are free to do what so many people seem to want: set aside the First Amendment’s speech rules in favor of new, more restrictive ones.
Mimicking a few government systems will not make internet platforms adequate substitutes for real governments, subject to real laws and real rights-based constraints on their power. Compared with democratic governments, platforms are far more capable of restricting speech. And they are far less accountable than elected officials for their choices. In this talk, I will delve into the differences we should be considering before urging platforms to take on greater roles as arbiters of speech and information.
Daphne Keller Bio